Chemistry - Is it possible to speed up radioactive decay?

Solution 1:

It is possible to modify nuclear decay rates using chemistry, though it is rare and the effect is usually very small. Here I summarize the information available in this link. You may want to see the references within.

There is a type of nuclear decay called electron capture, where a nuclide directly captures an electron from the innermost electron shells and transforms a proton into a neutron. Therefore, there is coupling between the nucleus and the wavefunctions of the innermost electrons in this form of radioactive decay.

Usually the core electrons are very weakly disturbed by changes in chemical environment, but they are changed slightly. For especially light atoms, where the core electrons are very close to the valence shell, such as $\ce{^7_4 Be}$, this change results in a measurable difference in decay rate, varying by 0.1-1% compared to the isolated atom.

In a more dramatic case, there is a subset of beta decays called bound-state beta decay, where the electron released by the decaying neutron is immediately captured by the nucleus after decay. Apparently, if the parent atom is stripped completely bare of its electrons, and if the energy involved in the nuclear decay is comparatively low, once again there is a meaningful coupling between nuclear and electronic states. For the case of rhenium-187, the neutral atom $\ce{^187_75 Re}$ has a half-life of 42 billion years, but upon full ionization to $\ce{^187_75 Re^75+}$, the half-life is reduced to 32.9 years! For dysprosium-163, the neutral atom $\ce{^163_66 Dy}$ has half-life so high it has not been measured to decay, but when ionized to $\ce{^163_66 Dy^{66+}}$ its half-life is reduced to 47 days!

Solution 2:

Nuclear decay is accelerated (artificially produced) all the time. Per wikipedia,

U-238 is not usable directly as nuclear fuel, though it can produce energy via "fast" fission. In this process, a neutron that has a kinetic energy in excess of 1 MeV can cause the nucleus of 238U to split in two.

So a neutron with 1 MeV kinetic energy can split the nucleus. 1 MeV = 1,000,000 eV.

Under normal conditions, we breathe around an ambient available thermal energy of $k_B T \approx 2.5$ kJ/mol. The neutron above has $96485307$ kJ/mol of energy.

A lot more. It takes a lot of energy to produce artificial radioactive decay; but we can and regularly do it.

I think I recall the US government used $\ce{UF6}$ as the primary energy-producer for nuclear development during/after WWII. Different forms (salts) of Uranium seem to make artificial decay easier (I don't know by how much, though).